The most common mesothelioma treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation, which may help patients live longer and improve their quality of life. Some patients can also access newer treatments through clinical trials. The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help U.S. veterans with mesotheliomafind the best treatments.
Video Summary: Registered Nurse Amy Fair explains what mesothelioma is, the causes, and the symptoms.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma attacks the tissues that line most major organs, called the mesothelium. It is known mainly to attack the mesothelium of the lung, pericardial sack, peritoneal cavity in the abdomen, and also known to attack the lining of the testicles.
One of the first symptoms for developing mesothelioma is shortness of breath. A lot of times folks will have the shortness of breath with the pleuritic chest pain. This is also followed sometimes by substantial weight loss.
Many times after being diagnosed with mesothelioma your physician may ask you if you have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a causative factor for mesothelioma. Some of the imaging studies may show underlying pleural plaques which are indicated that they have been around asbestos and may have underlying asbestosis.
The risk factors for developing mesothelioma are working around asbestos-related products, or being indirectly around those products such as secondhand exposures that are seen with wives that launder their loves ones' clothes that have asbestos dust on them. So direct asbestos exposure, as well as indirect asbestos exposure, can be causative factors for mesothelioma.
If you have symptoms of mesothelioma of any asbestos-related disease, it’s important that you inform your doctor of your asbestos exposure so that appropriate testing can be done.
Medically reviewed by:Todd Gersten, MDDouble Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist
How Is Mesothelioma Treated?
Doctors use surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and other therapies in the treatment of mesothelioma.
Different treatments will be used depending on factors like cancer stage, spread, and the patient’s overall health.
Key Facts About Mesothelioma Treatment
Treatments can kill cancer cells, help patients live longer, and ease symptoms
Veterans can get low-cost or free treatments from top doctors with VA health care
We have nearly 150 mesothelioma doctors in-network and can help you find ones who can help you
By receiving treatment, it may be possible for you to live for many years after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Some patients have lived for 15 years or more thanks to the treatments they received.
If you or a loved one is a U.S. veteran with mesothelioma, the Mesothelioma Veterans Center’s on-staff nurses may be able to help you find the best treatments for your case.
Mesothelioma surgery is often considered the best treatment option. Doctors can remove cancer tumors from the body with several types of surgery.
Mesothelioma chemotherapy drugs shrink tumors. Chemotherapy is typically given in cycles so patients can recover from any side effects.
Mesothelioma radiation uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation also causes the tumors to shrink, making them easier to remove with surgery.
Immunotherapy is a newer type of mesothelioma treatment. It helps the body find and destroy mesothelioma cells.
Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields)
TTFields slow the growth of cancer tumors by using electrically charged pads that stick to the skin. The electricity doesn’t harm the patient.
Multimodal Treatment for Mesothelioma
Multimodal treatment combines therapies. For example, doctors may remove tumors with surgery and then use radiation or chemotherapy to kill leftover cancer cells.
Patients who got a P/D and additional chemotherapy lived for 38.1 months on average, according to the 2022 Translational Lung Cancer Research study.
Many oncologists (cancer doctors) prefer the P/D since it helps patients live longer than an EPP and is less intense, as both lungs are spared.
Patients can often receive either surgery as part of a pleural mesothelioma treatment plan if the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery for Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma is the second-most common type of this cancer and it forms in the abdomen lining (peritoneum). The main surgery doctors use to treat peritoneal mesothelioma is called cytoreduction with HIPEC.
This treatment has two parts:
Cytoreductive surgery: Doctors remove the abdominal lining and all of the visible cancerous tumors.
HIPEC: After surgery, doctors bathe the abdominal cavity with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) — heated cancer-killing drugs.
Patients live for 53 months (over 4 years) on average when cytoreduction with HIPEC is their main peritoneal mesothelioma treatment, according to a Cancer Management and Research report.
See how U.S. veterans can access surgeries and other top mesothelioma treatments in our Free Veterans Packet.
Mesothelioma chemotherapy is medication used to shrink cancer tumors and kill cells. It’s typically the main mesothelioma treatment used if surgery is not possible, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Most patients receive a combination of two chemotherapy drugs: cisplatin and pemetrexed, which have been shown to effectively destroy cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be used by itself or alongside other treatments to help patients live longer. Pleural mesothelioma patients treated with just chemotherapy lived for 15.8 months on average in a 2022 Translational Lung Cancer Research study. When used to boost the effects of surgeries, patients lived for roughly 2-3 years on average.
Mesothelioma radiation or radiotherapy is often used to shrink tumors and ease symptoms of mesothelioma. It may also be used as a follow-up (adjuvant) treatment to kill cancer cells left behind after surgery.
The most common type of mesothelioma radiation is external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), according to the ACS. EBRT allows doctors to shrink cancer tumors by delivering precise doses of radiation right at the cancer, which helps limit the side effects a patient experiences.
Pleural mesothelioma patients treated with radiation lived for 12.2 months on average, according to 2022 data from the National Cancer Database (NCDB).
Call (877) 450-8973 to connect with mesothelioma nurses who can help you find top treatments, doctors, and cancer centers.
Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells more effectively.
In October 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of two immunotherapy drugs (Opdivo® and Yervoy®) to treat pleural mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma patients lived for 15.2 months on average when treated with immunotherapy, according to the 2022 review of NCDB data.
Tumor treating fields (TTFields) interrupt the growth of cancer cells using electrical pads that stick to the body. The pads prevent the cancer cells from dividing without hurting the patients.
In 2019, the FDA approved a TTFields device made by Novocure called the OptuneLua® to treat pleural mesothelioma.
Patients must receive chemotherapy and TTField treatments together. The 2019 STELLAR trial found that patients who received this mesothelioma treatment combination lived for 18.2 months on average.
New Mesothelioma Treatments and Clinical Trials
You or your loved one may be able to access emerging mesothelioma treatments through clinical trials. Cancer research trials study how effective newer treatments are compared to existing ones.
Clinical trials currently test new treatments like:
Brachytherapy: This is a type of radiation therapy where a capsule with a radioactive material is put into the body near cancer tumors.
Cryotherapy: An extremely cold liquid or spray is used to shrink cancer tumors.
Gene Therapy: Doctors can add genes to cancer cells to destroy them more easily, according to the ACS. It can be combined with other treatments like immunotherapy.
Photodynamic Therapy: This treatment uses light to kill cancer cells with a light-sensitive medicine. It may also be used with other mesothelioma treatments like surgery.
Immunotherapy and TTField treatments were approved to treat mesothelioma after they showed success in clinical trials.
Palliative Mesothelioma Treatments
Palliative mesothelioma treatments help patients manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. They can be used by themselves or in combination with more aggressive treatments that can help patients live longer.
Palliative care options for mesothelioma include:
PleurX Catheter: Pleural mesothelioma patients often have pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the lung lining). A PleurX catheter allows patients to drain the effusions at home instead of going to a hospital.
Pleurodesis: This allows doctors to seal the lung lining to prevent fluid buildup and can ease symptoms like shortness of breath.
Thoracentesis/Paracentesis: These allow doctors to remove fluid from the lining of the lung or abdomen. Doctors insert a thin needle into the site where the fluid has built up and drain it.
Surgeries: Minor surgeries can be used to reduce the size of tumors and ease symptoms.
Find the best mesothelioma treatments and doctors for you in our Free Veterans Packet.
Alternative treatments are also available for patients with mesothelioma. They are not a substitute for standard mesothelioma treatments but may ease physical symptoms or stress.
Alternative treatments for mesothelioma include:
Changes to diet
Meditation and breathing techniques
Talk to a doctor to see how alternative therapies can be used alongside standard treatments.
Doctors Who Provide Mesothelioma Treatments
If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, you should see a skilled mesothelioma doctor to get treatment. These doctors work with mesothelioma patients on an everyday basis and will know the best ways to help you.
"It’s the most important thing in the world to go to the best doctor in the world for what you have." —Dennis, Mesothelioma Patient
Some of the top mesothelioma doctors for veterans include:
Dr. Robert Cameron: Treating pleural mesothelioma patients at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in California
Dr. Daniel Wiener: Seeing those with pleural mesothelioma at the Boston VA Healthcare System in Massachusetts
Dr. Eugene Choi: Treating veterans with peritoneal mesothelioma at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
Dr. Lorraine Cornwell: Helping pleural mesothelioma patients at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
Most of the top mesothelioma doctors listed above are within the VA health care network and specifically treat veterans. Connect with top mesothelioma specialists right now by using our free doctor search tool.
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Getting mesothelioma treatments after a diagnosis is the best way you can improve your prognosis (health outlook).
Though mesothelioma is very aggressive, cancer treatments may allow doctors to remove or destroy cancer tumors so you can live as long as possible.
Did you know?
With major cancer treatments like surgery, pleural mesothelioma patients live for 2-3 years on average, and peritoneal mesothelioma patients can live for over 4 years. Some patients can even live for 15 years or more with the right treatments.
Mesothelioma patients typically live for 1 year or less without any form of treatment. Further, mesothelioma can spread quickly — which limits treatment options — if it’s not addressed promptly by a cancer care team.
Affording Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Mesothelioma treatments are very expensive, and can easily cost your family $500,000 or more. Even if you have military or civilian insurance, expenses can still add up.
For example, you may have to stop working after a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis, which could limit your income. Further, if you have to travel to get mesothelioma treatments, you’ll need to pay for transportation, meals, and lodging out of your own pocket.
If you or a veteran you love is battling mesothelioma, you should not have to worry about paying for treatments.
The Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you access financial resources so you can afford the medical care you need. See how in our Free Veterans Packet.
U.S. veterans put their lives at stake to defend our country. Today, far too many of these brave veterans are fighting for their lives after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Fortunately, U.S. veterans with mesothelioma can access treatments and other top resources by working with the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Our nursing support team is here to walk veterans through every step of their cancer journey.
Our on-staff mesothelioma nurses and VA agents can:
Find the best mesothelioma treatment options for your case
Help you pursue financial aid to cover medical costs
Put you in touch with top VA mesothelioma doctors
Secure medical and financial VA benefits on your behalf
The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.
FAQs About Mesothelioma Treatment Options
What is the best treatment for mesothelioma?
Some of the best treatments for mesothelioma are surgeries and chemotherapy.
Mesothelioma surgeries often help patients live for many years because doctors are able to remove cancerous growths and tumors.
If surgery can’t be performed, the American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that chemotherapy is the next most effective treatment.
Your cancer specialists can determine which mesothelioma treatments may work best for you.
Can you be cured of mesothelioma?
While there is not a cure for mesothelioma yet, mesothelioma treatments may be able to help you live for many years after a diagnosis.
Some mesothelioma patients have lived for 10, 15, and even 20 years or more thanks to cancer treatments.
What is mesothelioma life expectancy without treatment?
If you don’t get mesothelioma treatments, your life expectancy will likely be quite poor.
Pleural mesothelioma patients typically live for 4-12 months without treatment, and those with peritoneal mesothelioma usually live for 6-12 months if they don’t get treated.
In contrast, the average mesothelioma life expectancy with treatment is 12-21 months, with some patients living much longer.
Why is mesothelioma so difficult to treat?
Mesothelioma spreads quickly and is usually diagnosed only after it has spread, which limits a patient’s treatment options.
Fortunately, many mesothelioma patients can still get treatments even if they’re diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer.
How can veterans access mesothelioma treatments?
U.S. veterans may be able to get mesothelioma treatments by working with the Mesothelioma Veterans Center.
Our mesothelioma nurses can help veterans find top doctors and cancer centers nearby that can treat them. We can also help veterans seek financial resources they can use to help cover treatment expenses.
Call (877) 450-8973 to get in touch with our mesothelioma nurses right now.
Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist
Todd Gersten, MD, is a double board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in general adult oncology and hematologic disease. He is a physician partner with the Florida Cancer Specialists and practices in Wellington, Florida.
Dr. Todd Gersten is an independently paid medical reviewer.
Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.
Enomoto, L., et al. (2019, May 07). Cytoreductive surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma: patient selection and special considerations. Retrieved November 2, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6511620/.